Thursday, July 19, 2012

Keeping the New England dream alive

In a post on the New England New State Movement Face Book page, Paul Barratt reminded me of one of his past posts - Booloominbah. Pauls' post reminds us that the things that make New England special were not created by the governments in Sydney or Canberra acting in the state or national interest, but by the actions of individuals. David Drummond cared.

If New England is to grow or even survive over coming decades, it will be because we as individuals care. And care we must. Without that, there will be nothing left of those things that make New England New England.

I know that I struggle sometimes to keep the faith. I struggle more to actually deliver in the sometimes turmoil of my personal life. Yet as I study our history, I am reminded every day about people, about individuals. Often imperfect, even sometimes unpleasant, their efforts built what we inherited.

Today, our history is turned too, at best, a footnote. Yet that history is of national and even international importance. Sound extreme, even grandiose? Well, consider this.

Without the new state agitation, we wouldn't have had a university in Armidale. Without that, we wouldn't have had the academic work on all aspects of New England life. Sure, many UNE academics now play modern games and have forgotten their broad regional past, as has the university itself. But think about prehistorian Isabel McBryde.  

The citation for her award in 2003 of the Rhys Jones Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Australian Archaeology justly summarised her work this way:

Her work in New England was remarkable for its extent and depth, and Isabel's examination of the interface of archaeology and ethnography in the region shaped not only the approach taken by many later researchers but also prepared the basis for the arguments about upland regions created by archaeologists such as Sandra Bowdler and Luke Godwin.

That's not a small tribute. And it wouldn't have happened if those of us who cared in the past and now hadn't cared.

Sometimes, our dream seem lost.

As clouds swirl around me, when things seem just so hard, I remind myself that we have a magnificent story to tell, that it is up to us to write the next page in our history.

This story will not be written by the big wigs or fat cats in Sydney or Canberra. It won't be told by prominent individuals. It will be told by thousands of people who care at their level within their constraints. It will be told by a Rod who cares about New England geology, by a Lynne who documents New England life and who cares about Bellingen hospital, by a Janene whose friends don't understand why she wants to work for a local newspaper, by a Paul who retains his links even though the world has taken him far away, by a Greg or Mark who try to keep the new state dream alive.     

We care. We count. Individually, we don't matter. We can be forgotten, ignored. Collectively, we will change things. Forget us at your risk, for we are not going away. You won't see what we do unless you look; both local and social media interactions continue below the horizon. Yet the interaction goes on.

And the photo? This shows a New England archaeologists, in this case me, up a tree!


John E Coulter said...

New England - Thunderbold country, Tenterfield Sadler. Australia;s highest waterfall. Rolling plains and giant granite boulders. Ah yes, keep the dream alive. Separating from the penal colony past (and present mentality) down south would be a good start. And why were you up that tree Jim?

Ian Mott said...

We need to adopt a strategy of building regional identity, which becomes the logical extension of our history. And one of the key tools for that is promoting regional sport.

Those who think the new state will include a majority vote from the Hunter Valley won't like what I am about to say, but the Newcastle Knights Rugby League team does not draw support from any of the communities north of Stroud.

That leaves 900,000 people south of the Tweed without a team of their own, and left to languish as a feeder zone for Sydney clubs, many of which have fewer than 250,000 in their territories.

We can argue the economics of statehood until we are blue in the face but we have a sporting metaphor that will capture and hold their attention and allow us to reinforce the inequity every time the voters turn on their TV.

What are your thoughts? I understand that Soccer is the only sport where New North Wales has its own entity, distinct from NSW.

Greg said...

There is plenty of evidence of a Northern identity. Consider these examples:

- Hunter New England Area Health Service
- Northern TV aggregation (from Newcastle to the Qld border)
- Northern NSW Soccer (although mainly centred around Newcastle it does still have a separate and distinct Northern identity)

There have been other examples too such as cricket in which the Northern NSW representative team had regular matches against touring international teams. Sadly those matches now seem to have been dropped from the cricket calendar and cricketers from the North must now travel to Sydney or interstate for higher exposure.

That is a history and an identity that can be built upon. It can't be manufactured but it can be lost if there is no conscious effort to keep it alive. I wonder how many of our young people even realise that there has been a long standing new state movement and that there was even a referendum as recently as 1967?

Shared history and geography is such an important unifying force and that is why the work of Jim is so important. Northern NSW history should not become just a quaint and irrelevant little footnote to NSW. The 1.5m people of Northern NSW deserve better than that. That is why I am a passionate believer in a New England new state.

Rod said...

I just saw my name in your lovely post! New England still has its identity, it might be under pressure at the moment by being ignored by Sydney but that could also result in the identity becoming stronger. New England still exists and can still become a formal region. People like yourself Jim, that remind us about our identity.

I will forever foremost be a New Englander before being a New South Welshman.

Jim Belshaw said...

You are dead right, Ian. Soccer is our only state league, and we owe that to previous new state agitation. I cheer for Queensland in the state of origin because I really don't like cheering for a Sydney dominated team.

Jim Belshaw said...

John, that tree was just there and I wanted to climb it!

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, Greg. Rebuilding a dream is a slow process in part because it is a dream. We have a shared history in part because of geography, more because people cared.

Jim Belshaw said...

Rod, I will never be a New South Welshman! I won't. I can't! A first post on the thesis you linked me to -